Chapter Seven — The Forbidden Isle of Tuwa

Kara watched as people hurried to get supplies ready for landfall—several barrels of the precious fresh water, a lot of tools, and three tents. Professor Sheridan put tins of food in crates, and Djaren hefted a hatchet. “We could probably get our own food, really, hunting,” he said.

“Do you know how?” Professor Sheridan asked.

“Not directly. But you do. You could teach us.”

“Isn’t it mostly rare birds there?” Ellea asked. “I think it’s best we have tins. And chocolate. Pack the chocolate.”

Anna drew Ellea over to assist her in folding tarpaulins. “The bricks of it will melt, dear. Only the drinking chocolate is practical, and we’ll have to make it with dry milk.”

“I want it anyway,” Ellea grumbled, folding.

“There might be wild boar,” Djaren said. “And more kinds of fish and crabs and clams and mussels and eels and rays than you could imagine.”

Ellea made a face. “I don’t like eel.”

“When did you have eel?”

“I didn’t. It has a squiggly name. I’m sure the rest of it is squiggly, too.”

“Sometimes it’s salty and chewy,” Kara offered.

The Professor handed her a rope to coil and, reluctantly, Kara became useful.

Djaren grinned at her. “We get to start our own island civilization,” he said. “We could make a sand city, and palm flags.”

“We’re not exactly on holiday here,” Anna said.

“Why not?” Tam asked, coming up with crates of flour and rice from below. “It feels a bit like one, with the sun all high and no plowing or planting to do.”

Kara had never been on holiday. Holidays were for people with steamer trunks and gloves and hats.

“Hats are a good idea,” Ellea said.

Kara threw the rope coil down at her feet. “Out.”

“Don’t be so loud then,” Ellea grumbled.

The Professor sighed. “This will certainly be its own adventure.”

Kara crept out as soon as Djaren was asleep, and found night practice already gathered. Doctor Blackfeather had Djaren’s maps spread out on a table and was making plans with the fighters. Kara crept up to the edge of the group, and was impressed that half of them noticed her at once. Rades raised a finger to his scarves, signaling silence. Kara made a monster face at him and settled in to listen.

They planned to take the ship round the north side of Tinaro and weigh anchor amid some reefs, going ashore under cover of night to scout a camp of refugees for their missing people.

“If we become separated,” Doctor Blackfeather said, “each group should keep in contact with Hellin. For those of you who cannot Speak, stay close to one who can.” Doctor Blackfeather turned to his wife. “When I am gone scouting, do inform me of any news from the Queen.”

“Can’t he Speak or whatever?” Kara asked Rades.

“He can be hard to locate to Speak to, even for the Queen, I have heard,” Rades whispered. “He can hear very well though, in any form.”

The council broke up, with each going to ready their gear. Lady Blackfeather joined Kara and Rades, and smiled at the gold-eyed man. “Have you heard lately from Tallis?”

Rades grinned and looked at the deck. “We Speak often, but he has sent no new word from the Queen.” He met her eyes again. “Do you have a message I should impart?”

“Remind Tallis to eat, and to sleep sometimes,” Lady Blackfeather said. “He should practice living as humanly as possible, so as not to get lost in his head, or drift off further detached. And you can tell him that’s how I nag Corin as well.”

“Thank you, Justice. We are both very grateful for all you’ve done for us.”

“Don’t be,” Lady Blackfeather said, brow furrowed. “We should have rescued you much sooner.”

Rades shook his head. “The Queen says the same, but the truth is that no one knew. You have our gratitude.”

Lady Blackfeather nodded, and gave Rades a little half-hug. “I am glad you’ll be with us in this. You know more about surviving and healing than most have forgotten.”

Rades frowned, looking up to where Professor Sheridan stood on the upper deck, staring at the water ahead. Hellin followed his gaze. “Most,” she said softly.

“What happened to him?” Kara asked. “Why is he all scars?”

“That thing that attacked you in Alarna. For years, maybe decades. We don’t know how old he is, or how long he was down there.”

“Down where?”

Lady Blackfeather frowned. “You’re from Corestemar. Have you ever been in the great temple of the Sky God?”

“They don’t let girls or dirty urchins in there. And it’s been being rebuilt for forever now, so most of it’s in scaffolding. The roof fell in.”

“Good.” Lady Blackfeather said. “Avoid it.”

“The dome used to be copper, didn’t it?” Kara asked, looking up at Lady Blackfeather with new appraisal. “You should hear the stories about when she was pregnant with me,” Djaren had told her. “She pulled down a temple once.”

“Changed that, have they? Oh, well. I’ll think of something more subtle next time.”

Rades raised his eyebrows and he and Kara exchanged a look. Kara felt she had a friend in her silent admiration of Lady Blackfeather.

*     *     *

Tuwa came visible by mid-morning, three joined green mounds rising out of the sea, shrouded in threads of mist. The smell of damp jungle carried out over the water, a thick, wet, green smell. Jon drank it in with every sense, eyes open wide. As they drew closer flowers appeared, in colors so strange and bright they looked like silk. Some of the trees had leaves as broad as tabletops.

“Nothing looks like it does in the books,” Djaren marveled. “I think I’ve seen pictures of these, but they aren’t right at all in neat etchings, or in black and white.”

Jon agreed. It was so bright he felt dazzled. Light, water, and color conspired to make Tuwa a stained-glass marvel. The ocean itself changed, too, near the island, shining paler, brighter, and greener than before. A landscape rose into view beneath them, gold-white sand, mountains of coral covered with twisting alien trees and bunchy scrub, and wild parades of bright fish darting along. There were starfish, anemones, enormous clam-like creatures, and things for which no one had a name.

“I think I saw a shark!” Tam exclaimed.

“Hurrah! Where?” Djaren asked.

Jon didn’t see it, but his attention was drawn to one marvel after another.

“These colors, are you seeing them?” Anna asked, similarly entranced.

“They’re real bright,” Tam agreed, “and on the oddest little squiggly things.”

“Squiggly, I said so,” Ellea said. But even she stared down as they passed over the rich alien world of coral.

Once they were above glassy water and smooth sand, only yards from the beach, they dropped the anchor over, and took the small boat to shore, depositing the first load of their new civilization. Lying there on the empty beach, Djaren observed, their supplies looked like something washed ashore from a shipwreck.

“And that’s all the tools we have to survive on,” he said merrily.

“We’re terribly lucky castaways then,” Ellea said, “that the sea thought to leave us tents and tent stakes and rope and fresh water.”

“Ssh. You’re spoiling it.”

“Maybe the sea likes us,” Jon suggested.

Each of them had brought a small bag of personal belongings. Jon’s was a favorite book and a letter from his mother, full of advice and reassurances of affection he didn’t really need, but treasured anyway. Anna seemed to have a lot of sketching materials. Djaren had nothing at all, beyond spare trousers his mother had made him pack.

When the little boat had made its last trip, there was a flurry of goodbyes and last-minute advice. Lady Blackfeather hugged each of the children, even Kara, who looked startled but not cross. She handed Kara a satchel. “Some helpful things for the trip, dear.”

“It is no small task I’m leaving you, Eabrey,” Doctor Blackfeather told the Professor.

“Yours is the harder one,” the Professor said. “We here will live in a paradise, apparently, while you go somewhere . . . rather different.”

“Then I’ll be all the gladder to know you’re safe here,” the Doctor said.

And then they were standing alone on the beach as the Land’s Wings brought up its anchor and opened its sails. The Doctor, Lady Blackfeather, and the crew waved at them from the deck as the ship carefully picked its way through the reefs, away west. Grown weary at last of waving at a slow-moving ship in the heat, Jon and the others retreated to the shade of the trees to look round.

“So this is our island,” Tam said, squinting up into thick growth rich with color and almost translucent with light. There were mysterious, wild sounds deep in there, rustling, bird cries, and insect chatter, while from behind the sea sang repetitive waves.

“All ours,” Djaren said. “No one lives here, and who knows how long Mother and Father will be.” He craned his neck, looking up at the trees. “I wonder if any of those trees grow coconuts, or tropical fruits.”

“We ought to be careful about eating strange things, though,” Jon pointed out.

“I can eat nearly anything,” Kara said.

“Me too!” said Djaren.

Anna sighed. “We have plenty of supplies, so we’ll hardly need to forage.”

“What about building shelters?” Djaren said. “I saw some illustrations in a book once of these huts all made of woven palms and grasses round a base of poles. You’re genius with weaving hair and ropes, so why not reedy bits?”

“Hmm,” Anna considered. “It will take some time to work all that out. We’ll want the tents in the mean time.”

The Professor listened, bemused. “Why not just use the tents permanently?”

“Because we have all kinds of interesting reedy things and palms, and we’re on a jungle island.”

“Djaren really wants to try living like a native,” Ellea said.

“When in the mountains of Shandor, we live like the K’shay tanna. When we stay in Logansburg, we live like the Arienish. So why not live on a jungle island as it’s meant to be lived on?”

Jon thought that sounded fun and interesting. He wished he’d read more himself on the natives of Tembelaka and how they made huts.

“Well, I’ll bet there’s good fishing,” Tam said. “Maybe there’s some sort of clams to rake for.”

“We can try spear fishing,” Djaren said.

The Professor made a worried face.

“The coastal clans have that. Do you know how it’s done, Anna?” Tam asked hopefully.

“No, the Darvins are all inland. We’re Standing Rocks.”

“We’re half Copper’s Dawn, but we never learned spear fishing,” Djaren said. “Though I’ve read books.”

“Reading books is not slogging about in a strong tide on slippery rocks while stabbing spears at fast-moving creatures near your feet,” the Professor said.

“It sounds like you’ve done it.” Djaren looked up at him.

The Professor coughed. “Not for many years.”

“Good, then, we have an expert.”

The Professor shook his head and laughed. “Shall we chronicle the rise of this civilization as well, and make a new system of letters, and construct mulberry paper to draft it on?”

Djaren’s eyes lit. “That’s brilliant! Let’s.”

The first task, though, as Anna insisted, was finding wood for a fire. This turned out to be more difficult than anyone had suspected. The island was wet, and even the downed trees were crumbly and full of moss, insects, bright lizards, and worms. Tinder was simple, as plenty of huge fan-like leaves hung dead from the trees, nicely browned in sun and wind, but as for real fuel, rare bits of driftwood seemed the only possibility.

They circled a quarter of the island in their search, and at last had enough for the next day or so. “We’ll have to try and drag some un-rotted branches out to dry on the beach,” Tam said.

“It’s going to get dark soon, and very fast, this close to the world’s center,” the Professor pointed out. “There will be time tomorrow.”

They got all the tents up and a fire started on the beach just as an amazing sunset began to burn the sky westward.

“Oh, these colors!” Anna exclaimed.

She wasn’t alone in staring at the sky. Jon had never seen anything like it. Colors flowed and burned like bright embers, streaking flames amid mountainous clouds. New worlds formed and melted away into lakes of new colors, ever deeper and richer.

“I haven’t packed paints enough for this!” Anna said. “I don’t even know if there are paints for this.”

“So these are what pinks and oranges are for,” Djaren said.

“Here’s why they were invented, I think,” Tam agreed.

“It makes one think they’ve been rather wasted on frocks, peaches, and babies,” Ellea said.

The sunset blazed out in a finale of purples, blues, and dying golds, and then the sudden dark began to be pierced by thousands of stars.

“Oh,” said Ellea. And that was all that could be said for a good while.

“I don’t know all these,” Tam said at last. “There’s new constellations.”

Djaren named them, confusing things by pointing out that they were different by culture, and that the ladle bearer was the back end of the dragon turned sideways and that the string of stars to the north was both a girdle, a river, and a serpent.

“Ssh,” said Kara, and he did.

3 thoughts on “Chapter Seven — The Forbidden Isle of Tuwa

  1. YES. Sudden appearances with sandwiches and beleaguered smiles…. Hellin rules. 🙂

    And I can’t wait to see what becomes of Kara… and Djaren. 😉

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